[JPL] Re: jazz/not jazz, etc.

Jim Eigo jim at jazzpromoservices.com
Thu Jan 12 15:22:28 EST 2012


> BAM or JAZZ: Why It Matters
> By 
> GREG THOMAS <http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/contrib.php?id=3311> ,
> Published: January 12, 2012
> Since the last Race and Jazz column
> <http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/article.php?id=40463> , the first of a
> multi-part discussion with John Gennari‹the top scholar on the history of jazz
> criticism‹a firestorm of controversy has arisen surroundingNicholas Payton
> <http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/musician.php?id=10180> 's declaration that,
> to him, the word jazz is dead
> <http://nicholaspayton.wordpress.com/2011/11/27/on-> . He also feels that the
> word jazz is tantamount to or worse than the "n" word‹nigger‹and that the best
> and most descriptive umbrella term is Black American Music: BAM.
> We'll continue sharing our conversation with Professor Gennari soon, but first
> I'd like the All About Jazz audience to digest and respond to this piece. The
> scholarly dialogue with Gennari is crucial because it provides helpful
> historical context and background for such heated situations as the one this
> article addresses.
> Nicholas Payton, highly skilled on a variety of musical instruments, is one of
> the best contemporary trumpeters, and was even perhaps the best of his
> generation playing what he now calls (at least for 90 days) the "j" word. And
> I believe, as fellow black writer Willard Jenkins put it
> <http://www.openskyjazz.com/blog/#/2011/12/wheres-nicholas-payton-> , that
> Payton is "speaking the truth as he believes it." I also agree with Jenkins'
> point that no one stole jazz from black folks, and lament the miniscule number
> of audience members from the cultural group of its origin at jazz events.
> So, before getting back to the conversation about the history of jazz
> criticism with John Gennari, I'm going to, as author of this Race and Jazz
> column, give some reflections on and responses to the hullabaloo.
> As master saxophonist, composer and arranger Jimmy Heath
> <http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/musician.php?id=7541>  mentioned at a recent
> event at the Visitor's Center of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, he's been
> hearing that jazz is dead or dying for over 60 years. 1959‹the last year
> Payton says "jazz" was cool‹is most certainly a high point in the production
> of classic jazz: Miles Davis
> <http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/musician.php?id=6144> 's Kind of Blue,
> Charles Mingus <http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/musician.php?id=9429> 's Ah
> Um,Dave Brubeck <http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/musician.php?id=5391> 's Time
> Out, and Ornette Coleman
> <http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/musician.php?id=5818> 's The Shape of Jazz to
> Come were all released that year, and John Coltrane
> <http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/musician.php?id=5851>  was working on Giant
> Steps. Yet to claim that a form in which a plethora of musicians played, a
> host of fans listened to, and buckets of ink were typed in periodicals devoted
> to the music, was virtually or symbolically or actually dead after 1959, is
> obviously inaccurate. But since it's a provocative statement that elicits
> discussion, I'll take it with a grain of salt.
> And jazz, as I and many others conceive of it, is a music that certainly
> should be placed under the banner of Black American Music. Jazz is one of the
> musical branches that sprang from the cultural production of native-born black
> folks in the United States. However, I don't think it prudent to stop there
> and make BAM the be all and end all term. To jettison the word "jazz"
> completely, not to mention equating it with the "n" word, is, in my
> estimation, not wise.
> Regarding the latter, nigger was a term used to maintain the lie of white
> supremacy and black inferiority. "Nigger" and the racial caste system that
> supported its wide usage against black Americans were used to subjugate minds
> and oppress bodies, to deny freedom and keep "them in their place," and to
> scapegoat black folks as lazy, shiftless, hypersexual, unintelligent, and as
> the cause of the nation's ills.
> It's highly doubtful that terrorist white racists used the word "jazz" as a
> term of ultimate derision when lynching Negroes, but you can bet your bottom
> dollar that those bastards thought and scowled the "n" word while committing
> such murders. Furthermore, the meaning and connotation of jazz has changed
> several times over the course of the 100+ years of its existence. And though
> it may be true that the image of jazz musicians as drugged-out outlaws of
> society still has some currency today, I'd speculate that those who weren't
> conditioned into the view that jazz is lowbrow or the devil's music likely
> don't think of it in such terms. In fact, many consider jazz as akin to a
> classical music, and beyond their grasp. (Hence the expression "Black
> Classical Music" or Dr. Billy Taylor's often quoted declaration that jazz is
> "America's classical music.") Considering the course of European classical
> music, this is problematic as regards accessibility and popularity, but my
> point is that many people now think of jazz as "high" instead of "low."
> When considering what to call or name an art form, the issue of genre comes to
> mind. I'm not aware of anyone arguing that gospel, or r&b, or even hip hop, as
> terms describing musical genres, should be just thrown in the trash. The music
> called jazz, to me, has a powerful, noble, and oftentimes triumphant legacy as
> regards black folks and in the overall history of the nation. The values,
> practices, and tools of jazz also inform the potential of a global present and
> future. So it's disappointing and somewhat confounding to me that some of
> those who play it well are so readily willing to give up the nomenclature,
> almost willy nilly.
> I understand the constraints of the marketplace, and how people bring all
> sorts of assumptions and presumptions when they think of "jazz" musicians or
> music. The word jazz would undoubtedly benefit from a concerted re-branding
> effort. (In a capitalist society in which marketing is dominant, we should get
> some marketing wizards and gurus on our side.) Though I disagree, I comprehend
> the reasons why some might want to start other movements, such as the Stretch
> Movement <http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/article_center.php?in_type=185> ,
> that drop the word because of how relatively unpopular jazz is when compared
> to pop. I can dig the impulse to self-definition that would have Payton call
> himself a "Post-Modern New Orleans musician." Cool (though I'm curious as to
> his definition of "post-modern"). There's no denying that racism is alive and
> well, and manifests in ways both subtle and insidious within everything from
> the music industry to societies globally.
> That said, what is this thing called jazz? In my estimation, it's not simply a
> marketing term created by white folks with invidious intent. Jazz, to me in
> 2012, is the fine art branch of North American music, with a specific set of
> stylistic practices, born in the United States, created by black Americans,
> who ourselves are a distinct ethnic group or tribe combining influences from
> Africa, Europe, and the Caribbean, just like jazz.
> Since we're riffing classifications‹which are inherent to language and to the
> human condition‹there's also folk and pop music, general terms which, along
> with fine art 
> <http://integrallife.com/member/gregory-thomas/blog/folk-pop-and-fine-art-albe
> rt-> , identify relative levels of stylization of the creative process, and
> relative levels of sophistication of aesthetic statement. The blues, for
> instance, are fundamentally a folk form of music. The Negro Spirituals are
> another example of a folk music, on the sacred side. The blues, of course, is
> one of the very foundations of what became jazz. In fact, the writer Albert
> Murray, 95, calls the fine art of jazz the ultimateextension, elaboration and
> refinement of the blues idiom, Murray's expression for the sensibility and
> fundamental cultural basis of the stylistic expression of Negro Americans (his
> generation's preferred term), that infused American culture writ large.
> Blues idiom 
> <http://integrallife.com/member/gregory-thomas/blog/integral-take-blues-idiom>
> music would be my preferred term, since the "black" in Black American Music
> can too easily be thought of in terms of race, which, as I've said in earlier
> columns, is too often confused with culture. "Blues idiom" as an idea grounded
> in the blues establishes a root music foundation for the secular music called
> jazz. Gospel music is on the sacred branch of the blues idiom continuum. (See
> the article hyperlinked in this and the previous paragraph, and here, "An
> Integral Take on the Blues Idiom
> <http://integrallife.com/member/gregory-thomas/blog/integral-take-blues-idiom>
> ," for more about this rich idea.)
> Nicholas Payton and other artists have a right to call their music what they
> want, and to reject or accept the terms they want. Just as I, a multi-media
> journalist (print, radio, video) who has devoted himself to continuing and
> furthering the legacy of jazz in American media for a quarter century, have a
> right to respond to those choices as they appear in print. I believe that my
> right to respond becomes a responsibility when the very word with which I
> strongly identify‹jazz‹is challenged or dismissed without due consideration or
> weight being given to the positive values of the word/concept. The values jazz
> represent, the musical and social practices of the art form, and how it
> touches people, are what gives jazz powerful meaning and import, not just in
> the past but now too.
> What jazz signifies and means is really the issue and why what we call this
> music matters.
> To me, personally and professionally, I associate jazz with improvisation and
> syncopation, with resilience and flow, with tradition and innovation, with
> earthy elegance, with strength and nuance, with the integrity of individual
> expression within a collaborative group context, with true democracy in
> action, with spontaneity and empathy, with the eternal moment and the power of
> now. I think jazz is exemplary of the best produced by my ethnic and cultural
> group, and by the United States as well.
> When I think back to my earliest years, I recall my mom and dad's music
> collections, both of which had a variety of genres, including jazz (i.e.,
> Stanley Turrentine <http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/musician.php?id=10944> ,
> Wes Montgomery <http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/musician.php?id=9528> ,
> andCannonball Adderley <http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/musician.php?id=3270>
> ). I remember feeling the music in my bones, flesh and very soul since I was a
> teen hearing the music live and on radio stations WRVR, WKCR, and WBGO. When I
> played alto saxophone and flute in big bands in high school and college, it
> was like a momentary utopia, as Christopher Smalls suggests in Music of the
> Common Tongue: Survival and Celebration in Afro- American Music (Wesleyan
> University Press, 1999).
> The music called jazz helped me to grow beyond a racialist outlook and helped
> me to never fall prey to what Payton has called a colonialist mindset. With
> jazz, I've felt and witnessed the widest range of emotional and intellectual
> expression in music (aside from European classical music), and experienced
> deep insights into close listening and personal and interpersonal
> communication.
> And since I'm aware of the anthropological and metaphysical dimensions of the
> music called jazz, I even connect the music with fertility rituals and tantric
> sex, with grooves and swing that raise your prana or chi (qi) from the root
> chakra to the third eye, crown chakra and beyond.
> When I conceive of this music, my imagination also renders what I call the The
> Tao of Jazz‹the title of an unpublished essay I wrote about a decade ago‹in
> which the co-centric circles of sacred geometry, and the Taoist Yin-Yang
> (Taiji) symbol, modulate into fractal geometry, where self-similar continuums
> exist at all levels of magnification and reduction, into infinity.
> Jazz resonates on all those levels for and to me.
> Even Duke Ellington <http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/musician.php?id=6521> ,
> one of the master musician/composers who bristled at being placed exclusively
> in a box called "jazz," wrote a short yet revealing piece in his book, Music
> Is My Mistress (Da Capo Press, 1974) titled: "The City of Jazz."
> The outchorus:
> This City of Jazz does not have any specific geographical location. It is
> anywhere and everywhere, wherever you can hear the sound . . . Europe, Asia,
> North and South America . . . There are no city limits, no city ordinances, no
> policeman, no fire department, but come rain or shine, drought or flood, I
> think I'll stay here in this scene, with these cats, because almost everybody
> seems to dig what they're talking about, or putting down. They communicate,
> Dad. Do you get the message?
> I don't know about you, but I sure get the message and the meaning.
> So, within those contexts, and from those perspectives, the notion that jazz
> as a word/concept/metaphor/practice is either dead or that it's solely a
> marketing term, is unacceptable to me. Of course, it is true that for most of
> the history of jazz, "white" people dominated the discourse about the music,
> and that the musicians took a literary backseat. But we'll see in the next
> column that it's not new for musicians to define themselves against the
> proscriptions of white critics, "gazing on the music from across the race
> line," as Gennari puts it in the discussion that will be posted shortly. We'll
> also discover that it was so-called "white" critics who first posited what we
> now consider the canon of jazz as being founded and innovated by black folks.
> (Blacks folks, especially black musicians, knew that already; I'm talking
> about the manifestation of what Foucault called the "discursive formation"
> around jazz.)
> But just dismissing the word "jazz" outright seems to be similar to, as the
> expressions goes, throwing out the baby with the bath water. I'm cool with
> living and working in the City of Jazz. If others want to move out of that
> city, it's their prerogative in an open society.
> Author and scholar John Gennari has a perspective on the history of jazz
> criticism and how it intersects with race and canonization that, as you'll see
> in the upcoming interview, can be instructive. Then in the subsequent Race and
> Jazz column, we'll see how the issues that have arisen in 2011 are patterns of
> discourse that extend across the history of this music, especially from the
> 60s through the 90s.
> Such contexts will allow us to see beyond the surfaces of contemporary
> controversies.
> "Jamming at the Savoy," (1980-81, etching and aquatint) painting by Romare
> Bearden <http://www.beardenfoundation.org/>
> © Romare Bearden Foundation/ Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

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